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Tsunami observations by coastal ocean radar

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When tsunami waves propagate across the open ocean, they are steered by the Coriolis effect and refraction due to gentle gradients in the bathymetry on scales longer than the wavelength. When the wave encounters steep gradients at the edges of continental shelves and at the coast, the wave becomes nonlinear and conservation of momentum produces squirts of surface current at the head of submerged canyons and in coastal bays. High frequency (HF) coastal ocean radar is well conditioned to observe the surface current bursts at the edge of the continental shelf and give a warning of 40 minutes to 2 hours when the shelf is 50 to 200 km wide. The period of tsunami waves is invariant over changes in bathymetry and is in the range 2 to 30 minutes. Wavelengths for tsunamis (in 500 to 3000 m depth) are in the range 8.5 to over 200 km, and on a shelf where the depth is about 50 m (as in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR)) the wavelengths are in the range 2.5 to 30 km. In the use of HF radar technology, there is a trade-off between the precision of surface current speed measurements and time resolution. It is shown that the phased array HF ocean surface radar being deployed in the GBR and operating in a routine way for mapping surface currents, can resolve surface current squirts from tsunamis in the wave period range 20 to 30 minutes and in the wavelength range greater than about 6 km. An advantage in signal-to-noise ratio can be obtained from the prior knowledge of the spatial pattern of the squirts at the edge of the continental shelf, and it is estimated that, with this analysis, the time resolution of the GBR radar may be reduced to about 2.5 minutes, which corresponds to a capability to detect tsunamis at the shelf edge in the period range 5 to 30 minutes. It is estimated that the lower limit of squirt velocity detection at the shelf edge would correspond to a tsunami with water elevation of about 2.5 cm in the open ocean. This means that the GBR HF radar is well conditioned for use as a monitor of small, as well as larger, tsunamis and has the potential to contribute to the understanding of tsunami genesis research.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: [email protected] and Marine Geophysical Laboratory, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia 2: NOAA/NESDIS Coral Reef Watch, Silver Spring, MD, USA 3: Helzel Messtechnik GmbH, Kaltenkirken, Germany 4: University of Hamburg, Germany 5: Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: November 1, 2008

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